Assembly Panel Ok’s Bill Package Aimed at Making College More Affordable and Attainable for NJ Students

Four-Bills are Sponsored by Cryan, Riley, Giblin, Mukherji, Lagana, Moriarty, Eustace, Quijano, Diegnan, Benson, Garcia, Singleton, Jasey and Fuentes

The Assembly Higher Education Committee on Thursday approved four key bills that are part of a larger 20-bill package aimed at addressing the systemic factors pushing more and more New Jersey students into the real world saddled with debt and without a college degree.

The package is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Celeste Riley, who chairs the committee, as well as Joseph Cryan, Thomas Giblin, Raj Mukherji, Joseph Lagana, Paul Moriarty, Tim Eustace, Annette Quijano, Patrick Diegnan, Daniel Benson, Carmelo Garcia, Troy Singleton, Mila Jasey and Angel Fuentes.

Riley and Cryan first unveiled the 20-bill package in March to address many of the critical factors standing in the way of whether a student successfully completes college and in the most cost-effective manner possible, including: college readiness, completion rates, cost, data collection, accountability, and pathways to success.

“This might be the first proposal of its kind to be so all-encompassing,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “While visiting colleges during my legislative tenure we were able to hear what’s working and what’s not at many of our schools. This is a chance for us to take those success stories and make them a reality for every school and student.”

“One of the statistics that really stood out to me was the number of students that were ‘down and out’ – meaning after so many years enrolled in college they were down money and still without a degree,” said Cryan (D-Union). “Now they’re carrying a huge debt burden with hardly any means to pay it down. We need to change that and these bills are a good start.”

The following four bills were approved today:

A-2802 (sponsored by Riley/Cryan/Giblin/Mukherji/Lagana/Moriarty) would establish a statewide reverse transfer agreement under which at least 30 credits that a student earns towards a bachelor degree at a four-year public institution are transferrable to any county college for credit toward an associate degree to help encourage re-enrollment and degree completion and help a student know their time and money was not wasted.

“Encouraging more students to think outside the box and take advantage of two-year, as well as four-year colleges, will help them minimize costs while pursuing a career they’re interested in,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic).

“A student’s interests often change after they first enter college, especially when there is no gap between high school and higher studies,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “This will help students continue on the path to higher education without feeling discouraged or that they wasted time or money.”

“I’ve heard countless stories about people who have given up on college because they changed their mind about what they wanted to do midway through, only to go back years later and regret not having done it sooner,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This will help encourage students to continue working towards a degree when they might otherwise be tempted to give up.”

“There are many great degrees and certification programs offered by county colleges,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Students can just as easily find a rewarding and well-paying career down this path and that should be encouraged rather than seeing them give up on higher education all together.”

A2807 (Cryan/Riley/Eustace/Quijano/Lagana/Moriarty) would freeze tuition and fees at the same rate for nine semesters following a student’s initial enrollment at a four-year public or independent institution, potentially saving some students upwards of $10,000 over the course of a six-year degree completion program.

“The present system is almost untenable for working and middle-class families,” added Cryan. “Unless we find ways to make college more affordable and achievable, our higher education system will only serve to reinforce socio-economic inequalities rather than reduce them.”

“Smart, well-thought-out programs like the government G.I. Bill helped transform college from an opportunity only afforded to the privileged to a path anyone could take to the American Dream,” added Riley.

“As a legislative body, this is our chance to boost New Jersey’s approach to higher education to make it a reality, once again, for any student who wants it,” said Eustace (D-Bergen). “A concerted, coordinated effort on our part can make the difference between whether college becomes a pipe dream or a reality for future generations.”

“As tuition and fees continually increase at our higher education institutions, so too has the number of students saddled with student loan debt who are still struggling to complete a degree,” said Quijano (D-Union). “This then exacerbates the challenges of finding a good job and achieving financial security, making it all the more imperative that we act to make college more affordable.”

A2812 (Riley/Cryan/Diegnan/Giblin/Benson/Garcia) would require the development of a longitudinal statewide data system capable of retaining individual-level information on students from pre-school through post-secondary school and on to entry into the workforce in order to better inform education and labor policies.

“As a legislative body, it’s our responsibility to make sure institutions across the state have the necessary data to institute smart policy changes,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Well-informed decisions will lead to well-informed programmatic changes to overhaul our educational system.”

“Over the long-term, this data will help drive best practices across our state and make sure that educational success stories are the norm rather than the exception,” said Benson (D-Mercer/ Middlesex). “This is a smart investment in our future.”

“Comprehensive, long-term data like this will help inform our policy decisions for years to come so we can really pinpoint the key turning points in a student’s educational career that require heightened attention and improvement on our part,” said Garcia (Hudson).

A2817 (Riley/Singleton/Jasey/Cryan/Fuentes) would require institutions participating in dual enrollment programs to charge a reduced tuition rate to high school students participating in the program.

“Two of our top priorities remain affordability and making sure that students can obtain a degree that they can put to good use in finding employment after graduation,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “This policy change would help students achieve both of these goals.”

“We’ve heard time and again that we need to address the affordability crisis in higher education,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “Not only will this change help do that, but it will put students on the path to a career more quickly so they can become productive members of society sooner.”

“Anything that helps aspiring students obtain a degree more quickly and affordably is a smart move,” said Fuentes (D-Camden). “Students should be encouraged, rather than discouraged from pursuing dual enrollment and this bill will help do just that.”